Ray Smith is a pilot in Pennsylvania who gives free flight classes to children from marginalized communities.
“I teach kids to fly because I want to afford to them the privileges that I wasn’t able to get,” he shares. “Exposure is the prerequisite to opportunity.”
Meet Ray: Flight Instructor
Ray Smith: So hands on thighs. Hands up high. Hands on thighs. Hands up high. Okay? You’re going to be the pilot, alright? So we’re going to go over the checklist. Before starting engine, is our preflight inspection complete?
Ray: Check. Say “check.”
Ray: All right. Is our passenger briefing done?
Ray: Say, “Clear!”
Ray: The first time I flew was extremely scary. It’s almost like the roller coaster when you’re coming up, and it’s like “tink, tink,” for takeoff, and like “tink, tink, tink, tink.” And I’m just like (inhales deeply). And out this little window, all you can see is just blue sky, and you just know you’re getting higher and higher, and you hear the engine really working hard, and I’m just sitting there sweating. Sweating. I never would’ve thought I’d be able to fly an airplane ever in my life. I barely wanted to be on an airplane.
Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania
I was just terrified to fly. You’re in a big tube suspended in the air. I just wasn’t a fan of it, at all. And once we got up there, it was just smooth. And I’m like, “This is it? Okay, we’re doing it.” It’s almost like you’re moving so slow. Like you see clouds up close and personal. You look down, you just see trees, buildings, little towns, and it just really puts things in perspective of how small you are. And the plane is in this big, vast world we have. It was scary at first. It was definitely a little bit much, but that was it.
Ray gives free flight classes to children. The children come from marginalized communities.
Ray: Now you pull up on there. Look down there — you see this, the flaps? See?
Boy: What does that do?
Ray: So that slows the airplane down. So if you’re coming in for landing…
The more I started flying and the more I went to all the airports and saw other students, I was like, “Wow, there aren’t any people that look like me.” Because you know, we live in a lot of urban cities, it’s just very expensive. You might not know instructors. So unless you’re military or you have someone in your family doing it, you’re not going to learn.
I teach kids to fly, because I wanted to afford them the privilege that I wasn’t able to get, to instill that confidence in them from an early age. It’s like, this is something I can do. I can maintain an aircraft. This is something that I can see myself doing. I want them to enjoy it. I want them to have this be thought of as something they can do in the future.
So when they get up there, they have a blast. They can put their hands up like they’re on a roller coaster. They’re doing the turns. They’re looking out the window looking around like, “Wow, this is so cool.”
Kids need exposure. Exposure is the prerequisite to opportunity. You can’t be what you can’t see, so as long as I’m flying and I have free time, I’m going to take kids flying. They need to see it. They need to be able to believe in themselves. They can do it. They can see someone that looks like them doing it. So I’m going to keep going and doing it.
Ray: Say, “I love flying!”
Girl: I love flying!